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It is mid-1939 and both Germany and England are preparing for an inevitable conflict. Professor Horatio Smith, an effete academic, asks his students to come with him to the continent to engage in an archaeological dig. When his students discover that the professor is the man responsible for smuggling a number of enemies of the Nazi state out of Germany, they enthusiastically join him in his fight. But things are complicated when one of his students brings a mysterious woman into their circle, a woman who is secretly working for the Gestapo. Written by
Professor Smith describes himself as a lifelong bachelor, and professes his undying love of Aphrodite Kallipygos, a statue in the collection of the Cambridge University Museum of Antiquities, where Professor Smith is professor of Anthropology. Smith professes to have discovered the statue on the Isle of Lesbos, a real Greek island, also legendary in Lesbian culture. This may have been an opaque reference, by the writers, to the perception or reality of the foppish Smith being gay, which was a taboo subject, and never could have been mentioned directly in a movie made in 1941. See more »
At the reception in the English embassy, Professor Smith misquotes Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky. He mispronounces "borogoves" in the third line of the poem as "borogroves". See more »
Opening credits: The tale we are about to unfold to you is a fantasy. None of its characters are living persons, but it is based on the exploits of a number of courageous men who were and are still risking their lives daily to aid those unfortunate people of many nationalities who are being persecuted and exterminated by the Nazis. To these champions of freedom this story is dedicated. See more »
They Seek Him Here, They Seek Him There, --- Those Nazis Seek Him Everywhere
World War II brought Leslie Howard the opportunity to bring up to modern times one of his most beloved parts, that of The Scarlet Pimpernel. This time he's Horatio 'Pimpernel' Smith, archaeologists by day and rescuer of some of the finest intellectual minds in Germany who are marked for death by Adolph Hitler.
In The Scarlet Pimpernel Howard is a Georgian fop as his cover for the dashing, unknown, and elusive pimpernel. Substitute fop for tweedy as he's now an Oxford archeology professor and his cover is a beaut.
One of the Nazi Aryan racial vanities was that way back in the day there was an Aryan civilization. Being the archaeologist he is, Howard's cover is that he's in Germany on a dig, looking for evidence of that selfsame civilization. He even brings along several students as part of the cover.
In one scene Howard is wounded when he's disguised as a scarecrow and a Nazi guard shoots at it to make a point. That does lead to him being found out by his students, one of them being David Tomlinson, later the father in Mary Poppins. To a man, they all decide to stay and help him with his work.
Howard's a bachelor here so he doesn't have wife Merle Oberon and her family dirty laundry to compromise him as he did in The Scarlet Pimpernel. Here he's dealing with Mary Morris who is collaborating with the Nazis to keep her musician father, Peter Gawthorne alive.
Taking the place of Howard's relentless foe Chauvelin as played by Raymond Massey is Francis L. Sullivan as General Von Graum of the Gestapo. Sullivan is a favorite character actor of mine and a joy to watch in any film he does whether a good guy or the baddest of bad guys as he is here.
Leslie Howard directed this film himself and it's interesting to speculate had he survived World War II whether he would have done more work behind rather than in front of the camera. In directing Pimpernel Smith, he certainly had the advantage of knowing his character well.
And you shouldn't pass up an opportunity to get to know him too.
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